Advantages and disadvantages of 'science and technology

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It could be argued that what actually determines the moral status of a scientific or technological advance is not the drive towards progress but how far this drive is taken. A famous example of this can be seen in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Dr. Frankenstein is enamored with knowledge and the power that comes with it, but is soon overcome by an insatiable lust for ever more progress until he sets his sights on the border between life and death:

No one can conceive the variety of feelings which bore me

onwards, like a hurricane, in the first enthusiasm of success.

Life and death appeared to me ideal bounds, which I should

first break through, and pour a torrent of light into the dark

world. (286)

Once Dr. Frankenstein succeeds and his monster comes to life, he has a guttural reaction of horror that never quite materializes into a sense of guilt. The reader knows, however, that Frankenstein has overstepped some limit to the advancement of science. Some would say that Frankenstein tried too hard to be like God - that the creation of life and the abolishment of death should stay in the hands of a higher power. Though Shelley wrote her novel almost two hundred years ago, the moral question she poses about the limits of science are still relevant today in arguments about stem cell research and cloning.

If the moral limits of science do exist, how are we to know when we've reached them until, as in the situation with Dr. Frankenstein and his monster, it is too late and they have already been crossed? In his essay My Bionic Quest for "Bolero", Michael Chorost recounts his own experience with pushing the boundaries of science. Chorost was born with degenerative hearing problems that eventually outstripped the ability of standard hearing aids to help him. In his desperation, he sought a more sophisticated treatment. Doctors equipped him with cochlear implants, computer devices that replicated the activity of the aural nerves between his ears and his brain. The results were impressive; Chorost admits that, after he was given the implants, "[his] hearing was better than it had ever been" (293). But this was not enough for Chorost - he wanted not just to hear, but to hear with such natural precision that he could recognize all of the richness and texture of a complicated orchestral piece. This became, in a way somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein, his single-minded pursuit. He pushed the medical community to create ever more sophisticated software for his implants until they succeeded in equipping him with hearing ability that approached what nature itself could provide.

The result was not a grotesque monster - merely a man who could achieve what appeared to be the impossible dream of listening to his favorite piece of music in all its glory. But what morally separates Chorost from Dr. Frankenstein? Is it only the creation of life that is the sacred boundary, or do we tread a fine line whenever we try to replicate or manipulate the natural order of things? If we look at Chorost's situation from the point of view of its result and impact, as Wilson did with cars and Grady did with medical advancements, there are no moral issues at all. But when we look at it with respect to our place in nature and our respect for the natural limits of our power, its moral implications become less clear[continue]

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